Jokingly referred to as the ‘Lovely Girl’s Contest’ (cultural reference here) around much of Ireland, this combined talent and beauty contest has been running for nearly 60 years, and takes place in mid-August. As well as the popular show itself, the town of Tralee comes alive with street performance and wild nights. While the festival is billed as a look at “aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility, and Irish heritage,” there are more than a few who find it to be something of a bizarre throwback, but it can certainly be entertaining.
The trip to see Dingle Bay’s most entertaining resident is a Kerry essential: the dolphin has been living in the bay for years, and boat tours are so confident of introducing you to the playful homemaker that you only pay for the tours if they succeed in getting you a glance. The really special offering, though, is the early morning option to slip on a wetsuit, brave the Atlantic and get up close and personal with the town’s most popular occupant.
Home to monks for more than a thousand years, and more recently a heavy feature in Star Wars movies The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, this jagged island off the Kerry coastline is difficult to visit: you’ll need a lot of luck with the weather, for a start. Not one for the faint-hearted, once you step off the boat, the trip involves severe walks amid puffins and crumbling domed houses.
Hit the Kerry coastline at low tide to explore for one of Ireland’s less-celebrated super foods, seaweed. This tour comes with a 10-course sample menu made from the very stuff you’re foraging for, and the rugged scenery is something else. You’ll learn to dry, cook and store seaweed along the way, and have plenty of time to connect with nature.
Dublin might have dominated Gaelic football in recent years (and be the home of the sport’s magnificent headquarters, Croke Park), but the capital has divided loyalties, with plenty of sporting love directed the way of rugby and soccer, too. Kerry is obsessed with the place, a spot for Gaelic football purists. Catching a game here is a way to engage with the sport’s most hardcore protagonists. Watch out for the green and yellow shirts and flags.
Most of the highest points in Ireland are in amongst the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, a 19km long range of ‘mountains’ (almost) that reach their loftiest peak at the magnificent Carrauntoohil. The 1,038-metre pinnacle is most commonly summited via a lengthy stroll to the Devil’s Ladder, a slippery gully climb, followed by a boulder field scramble. The summit features a massive metal cross and, weather permitting, truly spectacular views. The rest of the mountain range is crammed full of hiking options for those looking to (inevitably) get their feet damp.
The cabins at Gortbrack Organic Farm are wooden timber frames, with solar heated water and wood-burning stove heating systems. The hosts offer organic farming courses, treasure hunts, nature trails and gardening courses, and the accommodation is located in the middle of a gorgeous wild flower meadow. You can even pick and cook your own vegetables on site.
Dublin and Kerry are opposite Irish extremes in many ways, but they do share one obsession: horses. The jaunting cars, found throughout Killarney National Park (but easiest to track down at Muckross House or the Gap of Dunloe) are little rugged, semi-rain-proof horse and carts that usually come complete with their own charismatic drivers ready to tell you all you need to know about Kerry, usually in the form of long-winded and thoroughly entertaining stories. A slowed-down, charming experience.